Integrative taxonomy reveals cryptic diversity in North American Lasius ants, and an overlooked introduced species

Sci Rep. 2022 Apr 8;12(1):5970. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-10047-9.


Biological invasions are a grave threat to ecosystems. The black garden ant (Lasius niger) is a pest species in Europe. Current literature states that L. niger occupies a disjunct native distribution in the Holarctic, however, based on recent work, we re-evaluate this distribution. The native range of L. niger is reconsidered based on phylogenetic relationships (nine mitochondrial and nuclear markers, 5670 bp), DNA-barcoding (98 Holarctic specimens), morphometry (88 Holarctic specimens, 19 different measurements) and subjective assessment of phenotype. The potential spread of this species is estimated using ecological niche modeling. Lasius niger is more closely related to other Palearctic species than to the Nearctic ants known under this name. The latter are described as a distinct species, L. ponderosae sp. nov. However, DNA-barcoding discovered established populations of L. niger in metropolitan areas in Canada (Vancouver and Halifax). We describe a morphometrical method to delineate L. ponderosae sp. nov. and L. niger. MtDNA diversity and divergence is high within L. ponderosae sp. nov., but low within L. niger. More than 1,000,000 km2 are suitable as a habitat for L. niger in North America. This case emphasizes the critical role of integrative taxonomy to detect cryptic species and identify potential biological invasions in their nascent stages.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants* / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Ecosystem
  • Introduced Species
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA, Mitochondrial